At age 72, Ronnie Spector still looks every inch the rock star, with a low-cut blouse and a hairdo that deserves its own spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Spector is already a member for leading The Ronettes, who came out of Spanish Harlem to define the 1960s girl-group sound with hits like “(The Best Part Of) Breakin’ Up,” produced by Phil Spector, her now ex-husband. The first time the trio toured the United Kingdom, in 1964, The Rolling Stones opened for them. Spector looks back to those days on new LP English Heart (April 8, 429 Records), on which she sings songs identified with the British Invasion, including The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun.” “It was an innocent time,” says Spector over lunch in Danbury, Conn., near where she lives. “John Lennon and I went to a club one night, and he said, ‘Ronnie, just sing a bit of “Be My Baby” in my ear’ — then he pretended to faint.” The pop legend tells Billboard some of what she learned along the way.
Find Your Own Look
“The Ronettes never had makeup artists — we had aunts who were hairdressers. I’m in shock when I see people with my haircut. [People] say, ‘You’re an icon.’ I don’t know — all I know is I’m a girl from Spanish Harlem who loves to sing.”
Get Inspiration From Those You Inspire
“Amy Winehouse made me feel like what I did mattered; [she had] a Ronette look. She came to my show years ago in London. I had already started playing ‘Back to Black’ in shows. To be so young, married to the wrong guy — that’s why I sang it. The last time we played London, Amy’s mom gave me her book [Loving Amy: A Mother’s Story] with a really nice inscription. Can you imagine what Amy could have done if she had lived?”
Limit Your Vices
“My secret is I hate clubs. I hate drinking and people who drink a lot and slobber all over you. Even as a Ronette, my voice was precious. But I smoked — and I still do.”
Sing Songs That Mean Something
“I picked songs that would fit me. ‘Tired of Waiting for You’ could be about waiting for my ex-husband to put my record out. ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ made me cry when I sang it. I said to the engineer, ‘Give me a minute.’ Every sentence in that song was my life. I can’t be mended anymore! But I mended myself by staying out there. People ask me when I’m grocery shopping, ‘Are you still singing?’ Are you kidding? Of course!”
This story originally appeared in the March 25 issue of Billboard.